Potato Chips and Ear Plugs: July’s Plastic

July’s Plastic

-2 Califa Farms Almond Milk Bottles
-1 If You Care Dish Soap Bottle
-14 Small Chip Bags
-2 Big Chip Bags
-2 Quorn package
-1 Frozen Corn Package
-3 Dog Treat Bags
-4 Bread Bags
-1 Pizza Dough Bag
-1 Tortilla Bag
-5 Produce Bags
-2 Polystyrene Containers
-22 Daily Contact Cases
-1 Disposable Razor Head
-2 Disposable Water Bottles
-2 Cereal Bag
-10 Lids
-1 Container for Chocolate Covers Graham Crackers
-2 Ear Plugs
-1 Trail Mix Bag
-1 Pretzel Bag
-5 Electircal Tape Cases
-5 Cheese Films
-3 Food Containers (Veggie Cream Cheese, pesto, and unknown)
-1 Frozen Dog Treat Container
-2 Pill Containers
-1 Nature Valley Granola Bar Bag

Titan always gets excited for the end-of-the-month plastic count.  As they say, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and this month Titan scored my used earplug, seasoned by my inner ear as I spent 3 weeks sleeping in a tent in down east Maine.  Those little foamy nuggets helped me sleep through rainy nights and thunder.  They were then going to provide Titan an indigestible snack, but I managed to chase him down and steal it back before that happened.

July was an unusual month.  I (Kim) was away in Maine starting my grad school program.  Eating in a cafeteria, I couldn’t help but feel like a liar when I brought my plastic home.  My portion of this pile is small, but most of the plastic I used this month was indirect, behind the scenes.  I was also issued an extraordinary number of potato chip bags, which my beast of a stomach gladly accepted, and I wore contacts a lot more than usual.  Brandon is working hard at his school’s summer session/camp.  A portion of our plastic came from the projects he did with his students (bottles), or from his lack of time to cook (aka cereal).  We didn’t realize just how much we balanced each other’s time with cooking and taking care of Titan until I left!  It is so lovely to be reunited after 3 weeks apart :O)

Some plastic-free victories of the month:

-Seeing everyone show up in Maine with Tuperware containers!  Not a single ziplock baggie was used for sandwiches and snack, huzzah!

-Per my request, a bar brought our group’s beers in glass, even though they were serving other’s in plastic.  And all of our waters came in glass AND straw free! Bravo!

-Meeting Bill Coperthwaite, who has the rare propensity for making everything with his own hands.  His yurt (put together without powertools in the 70’s and still holding beautiful and strong) was equipped with hand carved wooden spoons, bowls, even a tape dispenser!

Bill's Yurt!

Bill’s Yurt!

What plastic victories did you have this month?

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Week 14: Food Truck Fail

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-2 HUGE Polystyrene to-go food containers (plastic FAIL of the week)
-1 Coffee Bag
-1 Pasta Bag
-3 Bread Bags
-1 Tempeh Package
-1 Frozen Fruit Package
-1 Garbanzo Bean Flour Bag
-2 Cheese Wrap
-1 Empty Tape Dispenser
-1 Nyquil Bottle
-1 Produce Bag
-5 Lids
-4 Stir Straws
-4 Misc. Films
-3 Kale Ties
-2 Safety Seals
-3 To-Go Condiment Cups
-1 Fork
-1 Small Chip Bag
-Misc. Bits and Pieces

Look in the top right corner and you will see this week’s epic plastic FAIL: 2 GIGANTIC polystyrene take-out food containers…

We do not go out to eat much.  First of all, we love to cook, especially together.  As I type Brandon is seasoning some kale chips, chopping asparagus, and pre-heating the oven for some sustainably farmed tilapia filets… I am one lucky girl :O) But who doesn’t love a meal out? Unfortunately, it can be hard for us to find a spot we like.  We often leave restaurants feeling like we could have made a better meal at home, and we don’t like to support big corporate chains that oust local businesses out of our communities.  Often, plastic sneaks its way into our lives as straws and side containers for salsa.  Our thoughtful ingredient choices are not supported by the average, meat laden menu.  And eating at home is so much cheaper, especially if you are fond of enjoying a crisp micro-brewski with your meal like we are.  Alas, eating out is a rare event for us.

Sometimes it can’t be helped.  That’s what happened to me the other day.  I found myself at BU before Tap into Boston’s Sustainability Network (where I was a guest speaker) hungry and unfamiliar with the area.  Dunkin donuts.  Starbucks.  Some scetchy pizza place… no no no, this wont do… but what’s that??! A food truck! Oh I do love the food truck movement.  I say bring on the food trucks.  It gives small businesses a way to compete for business without the pressure of renting property in Boston.  It allows startups to compete with established corporate chains.  Now local businesses can appeal to our obsession with convenience, food on the go, and variety.  I get seriously excited when I see a new food truck in the area, most that I’ve tried have been great!

This truck was the Baja Taco Truck.  I began to scope the place out, starting with the menu.  I instantly respect a place that offers more than 2 vegetarian options, and this truck did not disappoint.  Beans, guac, toatadas, count. me. in.  But not so fast, how is it served?  I stood back and watched the trendy BU students order.  The big plates came out in giant plastic packages, but everything else seemed to be handed out on a small paper boat.  I went for it, ordering 2 small tostadas, never dreaming they would put them in polystyrene!  My heart dropped as I received my meal.  The service was excellent and the food delicious, but I could not believe they put such a small amount of food, that was going to be eaten immediately, is such large packaging that is going to outlive me.  Just tragic.

To end this post on a positive note, allow me to give a shout out to my FAVORITE food truck: Clover!  If you have not tried Clover yet, your life is seriously lacking.  They have trucks all over the place, my most frequent stop being the one outside South Station.  Why is Clover awesome?

1. I can eat EVERYTHING on the menu.  Their food is locally sourced, organic, vegetarian, and made from scratch.  They have a whole section of their website dedicated to their food philosophy, how could you not love them?!?! They boast that 90% of their customers in Cambridge are non-vegetarian, they are THAT good.

2. The food is FREEKING DELICIOUS!  Fresh food is always tastier.  Clover makes everything fresh in the morning.  The corn fritters I ordered last week were literally fried to order (meaning you have to wait a couple minutes, but it is SO worth it.  They drizzle them with maple syrup and they taste like corn embellished french toasty bites!).  Every sandwich I have tried there has been delightful: chick pea fritters, soy BLT, egg and eggplant (sounds weird, but I seriously LOVED it).  Add on a delicious brewed-to-order coffee, or a chilled hibiscus tea, and your day will be MADE.

3. They are affordable.  Coffee is $2.  Sandiwiches are $6.  Everything is simple, in whole dollar amounts.  Portions are filling and nutritious.  Even a non-profit employee like me can afford this.

4. Everything they hand you is 100% compostable.  You will never get a gigantic polystyrene package from them.

5. The service is excellent.  Dylan, who takes my order, learned my name (and I don’t even go there often) He is ALWAYS smiling when I get there.  He was the one who originally told me to get a Cuppow, my wonderfully, locally-made lid that turns a mason jar into a travel mug! The people who work there make me as happy as the food!  Stopping by the Clover food truck will inevitably brighten your day in so many ways.

So next time you walk by a Clover food truck, stop by and try the french fries :O)

I must go, dinner awaits. Yum!

Another delicious homemade meal :O)

Another delicious homemade meal :O)

This Post is Brought to you by the Letter I

 

The Mighty I, to be exact.  After Zora’s comment on our last post I skeptically dropped one of these nuts in a glass of water and watched it dissolve in a matter of seconds.  What an unexpected turn of events! What are these biodegradable packing peanuts made of and how did I not know about them??  This discovery reduces last weeks plastic footprint by about 50%!

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Expanded polystyrene packing peanuts were introduced by Dow Chemical in 1965.  Prior to their debut natural materials like newspaper, hay, and wood shavings were used to protect packages during transport.  Unfortunately, newspaper had a tendency to compress and goods would shift and arrive damaged.  Hay and wood chips could get infested with pests.  Lightweight and strong, polystyrene peanuts not only protected your precious cargo from damage and infestation, but they also cut down on shipping weight and cost.

Although they seemed like the perfect solution for shipping, concerns about their environmental impact began to arise.   Notoriously difficult to recycle, these morsels could be reused to ship with your family’s christmas gifts, but more often than not they ended up in a landfill, where they would inevitably stay for generations! centuries! millenia!  No conceivable time span can explain the life of these plastics. They simply do NOT break down!  Another concern was the space they would take up in landfills.  My 14 x 14 box unveiled these peanuts like a clown car.  When not compressed they spread themselves out with reckless abandon (aided by their notorious static charge).  Light and clingy, they are easily airborne or shirtborne into the environment, where they can break down into dangerous ingestible foamy morsels that can wreak havoc on marine life.

In the wake of these environmental concerns some innovative companies responded by using partially recycled material to make their peanuts.  California went as far as requiring recycled content packing peanuts statewide in 2012.  This is a positive first step, but once made these recycled peanuts will still be around for centuries (or longer!) and have the same environmental consequences as a pure peanut.  In the 1990s the first biodegradable packing peanuts hit the market.  Usually made from corn starch these peanuts are non toxic, dissolve in water, don’t get static cling, and are stripped of their nutrients to avoid infestation.  They are sturdy enough to still be reused, composted, or you can dispose of them down the drain! (Or popped in your mouth as a shocking party trick)

We will still be keeping these peanuts, but we look at them much differently now.  This was a great lesson in producer responsibility.  Sustainable packaging is becoming increasingly popular in todays “green” market.  I am much more inclined to buy from Container and Packing Supply now that I know they take responsibility for their impact on the environment!

It is also important for consumers to speak up! When you order a product online you can contact the company and ask them if they will avoid using polystyrene packing peanuts for your shipment.  Tell them about more eco-friendly alternatives.   Companies want their buyers to be happy, so we need to make sure they know this is important to us!  See, it’s only week 2 and we’ve already learned something :O)

To close this post, here is what you can do with any polystyrene peanuts you may have inherited:

1. Create a closed loop with you family! Hang on to them and use them to ship gifts for birthdays and holidays.

2. Find them a happy home by listing them on the Freecycle Network.  Someone in your area is bound to be moving or shipping.

3. Get crafty!  Use them to stuff a Halloween costume or a pillow for your pet.  Make a floating keychain.  Glue magnets to the back and put them on your refrigerator.  There are tons of peanut craft ideas you can find online!

4. Put them in your cooler! No seriously, next time you go for a picnic (and you should go for a picnics ALL the time!) put your ice in a reused ziplock bag with packing peanuts.  The ice will stay colder and last longer!

5. Visit the Plastic Loose Fill Council’s website to find a drop off site near you.  With over 1500 drop-off sites in the US (19 in Ma) to take back used packing peanuts there are, of course, NONE near me.  Interestingly, when I did the same search on Earth911 it said my local recycling center accepts them. This just gets curiouser and curiouser.